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Ecosystem shifts inferred from long-term stable isotope analysis of male Antarctic fur seal Arctocephalus gazella teeth

Renan C. de Lima*, Julieta D. Cebuhar, Javier Negrete, Afonso Ferreira, Eduardo R. Secchi, Silvina Botta

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean has been rapidly changing over the last century. Many of those changes are driven by climate anomalies such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation and the Southern Annular Mode, which affect biological processes that scale up the food web. In this paper, we use δ13C and δ15N time-series of dentine growth layer groups (as a proxy of individual foraging history from multiple years, n = 41 teeth) to assess temporal shifts in foraging habits of subadult/adult male Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus gazella in 2 areas of high concentration of Antarctic krill Euphausia superba: the South Shetland Islands and the South Orkney Islands. Our analyses, which represent the first long-term isotopic assessment of male AFS sampled in Antarctic waters, revealed a significant decrease of δ13C (0.04 ‰yr-1) from 1974 to 2015. Nitrogen isotope values also increased after the late 1990s. The observed changes are likely driven by shifts in latitudinal and longitudinal distribution of krill and increased incorporation of 15N-enriched sources (higher trophic level prey and/or feeding in different areas) in the most recent period for reasons that are not yet clear. We were able to trace ecosystem changes through isotopic bio-archives of Antarctic fur seals, highlighting the role of this species as an ecosystem indicator of the trophic cascade effects caused by climate change in the Southern Ocean.